On Racism, Privilege and Power

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , on May 16, 2014 by playthell

Donald-sterling-v-stiviano1

Beauty and the Beast: An Ugly Old Jew and his Gorgeous Young Afro-Latino Concubine

 The Deeper Meaning of the Donald Sterling Affair

After watching Donald Sterling, the disgraced owner of the L.A. Clippers basketball team, attempt to explain away his racist comments in a television interview two things are apparent: You can make a lot of money and yet know nothing of the world beyond business deals, and Donald Sterling is just what Snoop Lion  said he is: “A racist piece of shit!”

It is also obvious that no one told him when you are in a hole you should stop digging, or in any case he didn’t take the advice. Sterling sat there on CNN, with the whole world watching, and spouted mindless babble that was part self-serving apologia and part racist diatribe, while trying to convince us that he is not a racist but a jealous lover driven to distraction by his envy of black men.  The only part of his story that is believable is that he is “jealous” of black men; which I believe is an inadvertent admission that he suffers from acute penis envy.

Alas, this is a widespread phenomenon among white males that has deep roots in American history.  When I was a boy growing up in Florida, if a white woman chose a black lover she was condemning him to a certain death by mob violence if their relationship was discovered by white men, but many of those same white men kept black concubines just like Donald Sterling while promoting racist policies against the black community.

The most notorious examples of this in American history are Thomas Jefferson – a founding father who sired seven children by his slave concubine Sally Hemmings – and Strom Thurmon, the longest serving senator in the history of the senate who led the fight to maintain racial segregation in the South while secretly siring a black daughter.  In St. Augustine Florida, my home town, it was Jimmy Brock, the manager of the Monson Hotel.

Brock had sired children by two black women in the town; yet he was such a staunch defender of racial segregation – the cornerstone of “white supremacy” the ideological undergirding of the system of institutionalized racism – that he poured acid in the hotel’s pool when Dr. Martin Luther King led a party of interracial citizens for a swim!

It was such a notorious act it attracted the attention of the national media, and pictures of this vicious racist attack published in the nation’s newspapers appalled people around the world – just as the sound track of Sterling’s covert racist hostility is shocking people everywhere as they listen to it on the internet.

 Racist Hypocrite Jimmy Brock
Jimmy Brock - Copy
Donald Sterling’s Soul Brother

Donald Sterling is cut from the same cloth as Jimmy Brock.  The difference between them was well understood by the wise Afro-Americans who raised and tutored me about the ways of the white world.  “The only difference between racist white men in the north and south,” they would say, “ is that the southern white man will tell you how he feels up front, while white men up north will smile in your face and stab you in the back.”

This is the reason why many of them preferred to remain in the south, choosing to deal with the devil they knew to the demons they didn’t.  Sterling’s comments to Anderson Cooper on CNN provides evidence that this is still true…except now, when racism is unfashionable and it’s corollary racial discrimination is illegal, covert racism is the preferred tactic in every section of the US.

Ironically the white Anglo-Saxon and Scotch Irish Protestants who ruled the American south didn’t like Jews either, as is evidenced by the anti-Semitic proclamations of the Ku Klux Klan. So the question arises as to why Sterling appears to have chosen these white racist as his role models…or at least adopted their values. This is the critical question in understanding Donald Sterling’s attitudes about race.

I think the answer lies in his own experience as a Jew in America.  Sterling is 81 years old, which means that he was born during the great depression in the US and the Nazi holocaust in Germany.  It was a time when Jews faced serious anti-Semitism in America and Europe. However unlike Europe, where Jews had experienced centuries of oppression, in the US there was a pigmentocracy based on skin color.

In this deranged skin game people of color were America’s “untouchables” – especially those of African descent no matter how slight – and those designated as “white” enjoyed special privileges.  Hence the trick was to be included among those defined as “white.”  The difference in the life’s chances and life styles of those who were considered white and those considered Negroes were like heaven and hell.

Walter White
Walter White
He Could have “Passed” but Chose to Remain “Black”
Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson as a young fighter
Both White and Johnson were classified as “Negroes”

The arbitrary nature of racial designation in America in which a person of white skin like NAACP leader Walter White and the ebony complexioned World Heavy-Weight Champion Jack Johnson could both be classified as “Negroes” – due to an irrational social construct called “the one drop rule” – made it possible for people legally defined as “black” who looked “white” to secretly “pass” over the color line and become “white.”

And considering the difference in one’s opportunities based on this superficial distinction it is no wonder that some people chose to “pass;” it was literally a choice between freedom and quasi-slavery. The wonder is that everybody who could pass didn’t.  However many Afro-Americans who were light enough to pass chose not to because they grew up with black people, loved their cultural inheritance, and hated the arrogance and racism of whites, which they understood better than their darker brothers because whites, believing themselves to be talking to a fellow white American, would share their deepest feelings about race with them.

This is why Walter white, who could easily have passed, chose to remain in the “world behind the veil” as Dr. Dubois described black life in the early twentieth century. For Jews, who were also outsiders to the Anglo-Saxons who ruled America, “passing” was a lot easier.  They only had to change their names from obviously Jewish ones like Benjamin Swartz, to Anglo names like Tony Curtis.

Many of the biggest movie stars of my youth were Jews who anglicized their names: Jeff Chandler, Edward G. Robinson, Kirk Douglass, et al.   And the titan of television Jack Benny was also an anglicized Jew. Ironically the pressure to pass as Anglo-Saxons was placed on these Jewish actors in and industry owned and controlled by Jews!

Kirk Douglass
Kirk_douglas_photo_signed
Born: Issur Danielovit  
Jeff Chandler
Jeff Chandler
Born: Ira Gossell
Tony Curtis aka Bernard Schwartz                  
Tony_Curtis_as_Houdini
Playing the Leading man with blond Shiksa Tony Curtis with
Blond Movie Goddess Marilyn Monroe
Tony Curtis and Marylin Monroe
As Benny Schwartz “Tony” would have offended white southerners 

The distinguished Jewish film historian Neal Gabler deals with this question with candor and insight in his seminal text “An Empire of their Own.”  Among the many important revelations offered up in this book is the fact that the Jewish movie Moguls who created Hollywood and made it the jewel in the crown of American popular entertainment, were European immigrants who desperately wanted to become real Americans and succeed in business.

It is not hard to understand why a man like Samuel Goldwyn, a self-educated Polish immigrant who was born Shmuel Gelbfisz and raised as a Hasidic Jew in a Warsaw ghetto, was not anxious to become a crusader for Jewish causes in America. In his native Poland Jews faced a hellish existence akin to that of Afro-Americans.  After observing their lot in Europe first hand when he was a student in Germany in the late 19th century, Dr. Dubois thought it might be worse.

Samuel Goldwyn
Sam goldwyn-portrait
Hollywood Movie Mogul

After making his way to America and assuming a new identity, first as Sam Goldfish, and then Samuel Goldwyn, he quickly recognized that despite anti-Semitism America offered great opportunities to “white” men so long as he didn’t make his Jewishness an issue. Hence he assimilated into “white” America as much as possible, went into the developing moving picture business and became a rich and powerful Hollywood Mogul.

Goldwyn and his Jewish colleagues achieved tremendous wealth and influence by producing films that appealed to the major market; which was white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.  It is these little swarthy Jews who created the blond sex goddess: May West, Gloria Swanson, Marylyn Monroe, et al.  By glorifying the fantasies of white America they became the arbiters of popular taste and the shapers of the American dream.

The price of success in their business was to completely camouflage their Jewish identity to the extent that they not only required Jewish actors to disguise their ethnic identity, but name changes were sometimes accompanied by “corrective” cosmetic surgery to change their noses to fit the Nordic ideal.  And movies addressing the Jewish experience, especially anti-Semitism, were taboo!

It was so bad that Jewish organizations called them out on their game of ethnic hide and seek.  However another critical component in the quest of the Jewish movie moguls to become “real” white Americans and give the public what it wanted was the projection of racist stereotypes of Afro-Americans in their films.

Before movies were invented in the early 20th century the most popular form of American entertainment was the blackface minstrel show, in which white men “blacked up” by smearing burnt cork on their faces, painting on ludicrous big red lips, and engaged in racist parodies of Afro-Americans.  It was such a rage among whites in the 19th century that the great song and dance men Bert Williams and George Walker named their act “Two Real Coons” when they got together in San Francisco during 1994.

However they were the first Afro-American act that refused to wear the burnt cork mask that white audiences insisted black performing artist don, in order to assume the identity that had already established by white Minstrels.

The Great Bert Williams and George Walker
Williams-Walker-opener
Two Real Coons?

The black face Minstrel tradition, although begun by WASP like “Daddy Dan Rice” with his famous “Jump Jim Crow” act – which is where the term “Jim Crow” used to describe institutional racism originated – it was taken over by white ethnics and immigrants.  Irishmen dominated Minstrelsy by the late 19th century and Jews followed their lead.

Hence by the time the first “talkie” appeared – the first film where the characters spoke, bringing an end to the silent film era that was dominated by the Englishman Charlie Chaplin – it was Al Jolson, an immigrant Eastern European Jew, who starred in the movie which was titled “The Jazz Singer.               

Al Jolson Singing his famous tune “Mammy”
Al Jolson
The World’s Greatest Entertainer?

 

By blacking up Al Jolson – who was dubbed “The Greatest Entertainer in the World” before he appeared in the 1927 film – became a cultural hero in white America, a status he would never have acquired had he simply presented himself onstage as Asa Yoelson, the Russian born Jew.  Hence by donning the black face mask Joelson was engaging in a double masquerade: an immigrant Jew solidifying his “white American” identity by masquerading as an Afro-American while denigrating black culture and character; a role that was quintessentially white American.

The movie was based on a Jewish play, “Day of Atonement,” with the screenplay and direction by Jews. When blackface acts went out of style the Jewish movie moguls brought the same obsequious comic domestic figure that was so popular in the live “Coon Shows” to the silver screen with real black actors.  The most famous of these was Lincoln Perry, aka “Stepin Fetchit,” whom white Americans found a much more fetching personality than the Jack Johnson “Bad Nigger” type.

The Jewish businessmen who ran Hollywood understood the seemingly insatiable appetite of white Americans for grotesque images of Black Americans, and they delivered them in abundance.  However according to his biographer Mel Watkins, in real life Lincoln Perry was far more like Jack Johnson than Stepin Fetchit; to whom he bore no resemblance, just as the American society portrayed by the Jews in Hollywood bore no resemblance to social reality.

It was a world of make believe in which Anglo-Saxon protestant heroes and heroines were the ideal, Jews didn’t exist, and black Americans lived to serve whites with a smile, whether cleaning house or tap dancing.  In any case Afro-Americans were simple minded happy go lucky darkies who could gleefully sing, as indeed the Jewish composer George Gershwin had a black character sing in his opera Porgy and Bess: “I’ve  got plenty of nothing/ and nothing’s plenty for me.”

Stepin Fetchit aka Lincoln Perry with Will Rogers
Stepin Fetchit
The black faced Minstrel Character brought to film played by real blacks

The Real Lincoln Perry

Stepin Fetchit book cover

A Tough Guy and Militant Fighter for the rights of Black Actors

This is the Los Angeles in which Donald Tokowitz – Donald Sterling’s given surname – grew up as a poor and powerless Jew.  Born in Chicago to immigrant Jewish parents’ in 1934, just after Hitler had come to power in Germany, the family moved to an economically depressed, racially mixed, LA neighborhood called Boyle Heights in 1936, where his father eked out a living as a produce peddler.

There were blacks, Mexicans and several white ethnic groups living there at the time.  Ironically, Sterling’s girlfriend Saviano also lived there. In a May 6, article on Sterling in the Boston Globe, “Becoming white: Donald Sterling’s past offers clues to current outcry,” Journalist Farah Stockman quotes sociologist Bruce Phillips, whose father had also grown up the neighborhood during the same period as Sterling.

““During the Depression, no one had any hope of getting out of Boyle Heights,” Phillips observed, and he described the position of the Jews in the racial stratification system Boyle Heights: ““On the ‘social distance scale, Jews were in the middle, between people of color and white ethnic groups. They were either the most acceptable non-white ethnic group, or the least acceptable whites.”  Outside of Boyle Heights the most conspicuous achievement of Jews in Los Angeles, Hollywood, was not promoted as a Jewish triumph by the movie moguls but consciously portrayed simply as an American, i.e. white American, success story.

This was especially true in this period when white racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi sympathizers argued that Hollywood was a Jewish conspiracy to corrupt the morals of white Christian youths. By 1960, when Donald Tokowitz graduated from law school and set out to make his fortune in the rich and glamorous city of Los Angeles, where the Hollywood Jews had found fame and fortune, he had learned his lesson well and followed a tried and true path to the privileged position enjoyed by successful white men in America.

Thus it is not surprising that one of the first things he did upon graduation was to scrap Tokowitz and formally change his name to “Sterling.”  Although he has attempted to put the name change on his father, court documents examined by enterprising reporters tell a different tale. In the legal papers submitted to the court Don Tokowitz claimed he wanted the change his name to Sterling because his colleagues had a hard time pronouncing Tokowitz.  He went on to say that this could hinder him professionally.

Reborn as Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling as young lawyer

Donald Tofowitz became a Rich LA Lawyer/Businessman

Thus by changing his name – which is a ritual of rebirth – his intention was to blend in with the rest of his white countrymen.  For being a Jew at mid-twentieth meant exclusion from the major law firms that were known in the legal community as “White Shoe” firms, where the high powered corporate deals were packaged. While not subjected to the kind of racial oppression that Afro-Americans suffered, many Anglo-Saxons regarded Jews as not quite white.

Ms. Stockman observes that this “almost white status” led many Jews “to focus feverishly on full acceptance. As they grew more prosperous, nearly all of the Jews in Boyle Heights moved to white suburbs in places like the San Fernando Valley, where blacks and Hispanics couldn’t follow.” And when Sterling became a big real estate owner he adopted illegal racist discriminatory practices that made sure even those Afro-Americans who could afford it would be denied entrance into those neighborhoods – and he was not alone, it was a common practice among racist white realtors.  Yet according to the government agencies that heard the complaints against him, Sterling is one of the worse and received the highest fines ever awarded in a housing discrimination case.

It was yet another bid by sterling to be a “real” white man. When viewed from this historical perspective the comments to his Afro-Latina concubine V. Stiviano makes perfect sense.  In essence he was telling her to do what he did: escape her ethnic identity and all the problems it brings.  This is abundantly clear when Sterling tells her not to bring black men to the games or be seen “associating with black people” online, and she reminds him she is part black.  “It bothers me that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people” says a furious Sterling.  “I just saying, in your lousy instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking black people.” At another point he says to her why can’t she just project herself as a nice Latina.

I guess when you have run away from your own heritage in search of, rejected your birthright for fool’s gold, it seems reasonable to demand it from your concubine – whom he describes as “a street girl” with fifteen Mexican brothers and sisters to support.  It is all too obvious that Donald Sterling is a sad deluded old fool, a shameless liar and hypocrite who burst into tears on world-wide television when he recounted how much he had done for his young Afro-Latina concubine who he “thought really cared” for him.

From all appearances this guy is a perpetual trick, a pathetic clueless Putz who thinks he can buy some young love that is only slightly soiled, and his “girl” V. Stiviano, which is one of several aliases she has used, is a hard hearted hustler out to take this chump for all she can get. It is a tawdry tale about racism, privilege and power in contemporary America in which beauty conquers the beast.  Alas, they deserve each other.

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 16, 2014

May the Circle Stay Unbroken

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, On Foreign Affairs on May 1, 2014 by playthell

Duke Ellington in Stetson

The Sound Sorcerer wielding his Mighty Axe; his sound was heard around the world

 Jazz and Modern Black Culture in South Africa

It is interesting to read Playthell’s article, “An Evening with Edward Kennedy Ellington;” it got me thinking of life in the Ghetto of Soweto, in South Africa. The Townships might not have had the architectural wonders of New York and its chic urbane life-style, but, Duke still affected and influenced the life, music and self-esteem of Africans under Apartheid. There has long been a struggle against Apartheid by the indigene refuting the claim that we were uncouth and backward.

As the Township of Soweto expanded and grew, so did the music scene: the South African Jazz Scene. Some of the jazz groups had “American” as their names. There were Jazz big bands; the fashion of the day were Dobbs brim hats, Florsheim shoes – some two tone – double breasted jackets with broad lapels and the whole dress code as was worn by the Americans of the ’30s, 40s and 50s.  I guess what I am saying is that, because of the inhumanity of Apartheid we witnessed an oppressed people immerse themselves in the American Jazz music and African American culture, language and mannerism as a way of keeping our souls intact.

Louis Armstrong Master Musician and Fashion Plate
Louis_Armstrong_and_Velma_Middleton,_Carnegie_Hall,_New_York,_N.Y.,_ca._Feb._1947_ Notice the sharp two toned shoes

John Hodges

 JohnnyHodges0161-thumbnail

 Notice the elegant broad lapels

The sleeve jackets of the LPs were the point of discussions from the Shebeens – Taverns/Speak Easies – of the day. Discussion about music, styles, musical signatures of The “Duke”, the “Count”, Hodges, Archie Shepp, Philly Jo Jones(some People even renamed themselves after their favorite artist here in Mzantsi), Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Bessie Smith, Sonny Rollins, Stitt, Sidney Betchet, Stachmo, Jelly roll Morton, Fats Waller, Charlie Parker, Ida Cox, Lucille Hegamin, Rosa Henderson, Bertha “Chippie” Hill, Sara Martin, Trixie Smith, Lizzie Miles, Sarah Vaughn, Mahalia Jackson, Mamie Smith, Josie Miles, Edna Benbow HIcks, Eartha Kitt, Mae Harris, Lulla Miller, jimmy Lunceford, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Charlie Christian, Ron Carter, Yusef Lateef, Ella Fritzgerald, Scot Joplin, and a host of other many American musicians-too numerous to list here.

Virtuoso Trumpeter Miles Davis
miles-davis-Fashion Icon
Fashion Trend Setter
He Was Miles Ahead in his Ideas and Style
 miles davis  Fashion Icon
In Music and Fashion!
 South African Jazz Trumpeter Hugh Masakela
Hugh masekela-1959 Miles’ Musical Progeny
Real Cool Cats

THE THREE JAZZOMOLOS

Swinging the Blues in South Africa
 Ella Fitzgerald….You Send Me!
 Ella-fitzgerald-4ec7911607ac3
The First Lady sings while master trumpeter / jazz innovator Dizzy Swoons

 

 Sarah Vaughn: The Divine One!
Sarah Vaugh II
The Afro-American elegance and sophistication that inspired South Africans

 

The Divine One and Ella’s Musical Daughters
 SWINGIN DEAUVILLE 1991
Merriam Makeba with the Great Gillespie

 

 This South African Songstress

 South African Jazz singer

She can feel it in her soul: Dem dirty blues and all that Jazz
Jazz Musicians were Africa Conscious
Africa Brass - Coltrane
And Glorified the “Motherland” in their Music

The American Jazz idiom was dominating thoroughly and completely here in Mzatnsi. How do I know all these name of all these musicians.  Well, as kids in the early sixties, we would sit with our Uncles and fathers and hear them argue and debate that was the best on drums, saxophones, composition and arrangements, and passions would rise to pitch level.

There were people who never thought of other artist as deserving mention or to be listened to because they did not meet their standard of what was Jazz or the like. So as we grew up in the late sixties, we were exposed to a variety of different artists of this American genre. Well, in most cases, my generation was scoffed-at by our old timers for not listening to real and classic Jazz when we listened to Jimmy Smith, John Patton, Harold Mabern, Blue Mitchell, Lou Donaldson, Billy Cobham, Booker T., Soul Music and funk.

We were ridiculed by these stalwarts and keepers of the Old Jazz, as me and my peers referred to Classical jazz as “not listening to Jazz,” and knowing nothing about it. But today, with most of them gone, and many of those who survived apartheid – the old timers I referred to above – have formed Jazz Clubs here in South Africa. They meet on weekends and bring out their best collection and spend the whole day listening to jazz, eating and imbibing large amounts of alcohol.

And whilst engaging in this celebration of jazz here in Mzantsi, you would hear talk like Playthell’s, whom I will cite below, as being what was said about these musicians by our elders. Most of the other stuff was learned and read from the LP liner notes by some Jazz critic or aficionado, and From Down Beat Magazine and so forth. It would go something like this passage from Playthell’s essay:  

“Some of these people had crossed an ocean to attend the concert earlier in the day. After a while, it was clear that several of the guests had seriously followed Duke’s work for thirty to forty years. … As Duke responded to requests and moved from one tune to another, I was impressed by the fact that most of these songs were now part of the standard repertoire of American music. … I wondered at the artistic sensibility that could conceive these elegant tone poems, based in sophisticated urban blues and surrounded by consistently inventive orchestrations…. ….When he composed his suites to various regions of the world he never wrote the music when he was in those places.

‘I don’t want to be overly influenced by the local musical traditions, so I always wait until I’m back home to write my impressions.’ And he also confessed to me after a few rounds of Champaign: ‘I’m a sophisticated savage.’ Before I could persuade him to elaborate on his colorful claim our conversation was disrupted by others demanding the attention of the great man. I understood and bowed out.  That enchanted evening in July, 1974 demonstrates that rest the world has long recognized the extraordinary creative contribution of the Duke. It is long past time this prophet became s hero in his own land.”

To be honest, what Playthell wrote above would be taken by these Jazz aficionados, turned on its head, made theirs. And included in their folklore about Jazz, as if it was they who spun the yarn above, and had experienced it, so that they have a one-up on their fellow Jazz buffs.. But, with time, those with the means, have been visiting The Newport Jazz Festival, Montreux Festival, and many of those in Europe.. And the comeback with fantastic tales of their visits and so forth, today (Most of it exaggerated, somewhat, but with some kernel of Truth.

Duke, Armstrong and Singer Jimmy Rushing
Duke Ellington,  Rushing, Louis Armstrong, Billy Strahorn with Photomodels at 1962 Newport Jazz Festival 
Hanging out with High Fashion Models Backstage at Newport 1962

 Today in south Africa, we have come a long from the days I described above.. People are not more able to listen to jazz without the pressures of apartheid dehumanizing us. But African American Jazz in South Africa made our lives more bearable and full of hope. We never gave the Boers a chance to tell us nor believed we were barbarians or savages. Duke and the rest of the African America Jazz Masers, confirmed to us, since most of us looked like many of them and vice-versa- we knew that we were better than what the Apartheid monsters said we were.

There were many Jazz bands that were spawned as a result of our exposure to the American music scene and its Jazz Masters. These I might talk about in another palaver we might have on this subject. But Playthell’s article, with its cultural opulence and high art life-style, is still what makes our world go round. Duke was our demi-god when it came to Jazz, Style, dress/fashion, comportment and Class. He personified all this and then some to my uncles and their friends.

A Paragon of Male Elegance
Duke Ellington esq-best-dressed-duke-ellington-lg-2
Esquire Magazines “Best Dressed Man”
A Playful Moment with the Great Ray Nance
Ray Nance
 Jiving around onstage in Sweden
A Triple Threat and More….

Ray Nance II

Sweet Ray Nance: a Master of Trumpet, Violin and Dance….he could Sing too!

Our Elders copied many of Duke’s mannerism that Playthell describes above, which he observed on his visit to the Maestro’s apartment.  As you can imagine, many have tried, albeit not on par with Playthell’s analysis, to be what the Duke represented and even added they own spin to the act. Apartheid, in its evil intent to dehumanize us, failed dismally because many Africans in South Africa knew that their Nazi-like oppressor’s claims of racial superiority were lies.

We lived our lives full of Jazz and our spirits danced above the concentration camps they built for us Called Townships… Like the humongous one called Soweto (Southern Western Townships) Digging jazz is still the way to go.. although the present-day youth in south Africa – as in the United States – are out of sync and do not know any better.. Some of us still know what time it is when it comes to Jazz music…

Young South African Jazzmen
 South African Jazzmen.jpg Today

 All Races come together playing Jazz

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 Double Clink on Link to see Duke and Ray Nance

http://youtu.be/gOlpcJhNyDI 

The Ellington Orchestra in live Concert, Zurich 1959

http://youtu.be/Qkn57XP-_kM

SkhoKho Sa Tiou

 Mzantsi, South Africa

May Day 2014

JOHN KERRY MUST RESIST ISRAEL LOBBY!!!!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , , , on April 29, 2014 by playthell

 john-kerry-351

 Taking flack for telling the Truth

Kerry Must not Resign over Israel Comment

Senator Ted Cruz, a far rightwing Republican charlatan from Texas, has called upon Secretary of State John Kerry to resign because of some remarks he made at the recent Trilateral Conference about the future of Arab/Jewish relations in Palestine/Israel.  Speaking of the consequences that would result from the failure of the present talks between Israel and the Palestinians fail Secretary Kerry said that Israel would become an “Apartheid state.”

Senator Cruz says this remark shows that the Secretary of State is unfit to conduct American foreign policy, and Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who rarely agrees with the Texas Republican Cruz on anything has quickly joined him in criticizing Secretary Kerry, expressing horror that Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East,” should be associated with a massive crime against humanity like South African Apartheid. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.

Cruz is an opportunistic charlatan whose political success is based on playing to the most extreme rightwing elements of the Republican base – including the “Christian Zionist” among the evangelicals – and his sympathies lie with Neo-Con hawks like Dick Cheney on foreign policy.   And despite her progressive record on other issues Barbara Boxer is a standard-issue Democratic apologist for Israeli excesses.  Like other members of Congress they are both prisoners of the Israeli Lobby.

This explains why they have both rushed to denounce Secretary Kerry’s remarks, and like a kid who has been chastised for wandering out of the yard without permission, Kerry has apologized for breaking the rules.  Since what the Secretary of state said was true, the question before the American people is: Can the Secretary of State serve the best interests of the United States if he cannot even discuss issues critical issues candidly, especially when these issues involve American blood and treasure?

This imposed silence amounts to a form of censorship through political intimidation, orchestrated by the Anti-Defamation League. The League, which directs much of the activity of the broader “Israel Lobby” even as its Director, Abraham “The Inquisitor” Foxman, produced a book denouncing Professors Mearsheimer and Walt’s study and denying that the Israel Lobby exists –  is clearly injurious to American national security, although everyone is in denial about this phenomenon.

 

I wrote about this imposed silence on the question of Israel’s support for Apartheid and the role they played in fingering Mandela in my Eulogy on Commentaries On The Times: ”Nelson Mandela: Freedom Fighter.”

“It is conventional wisdom that no….censorship exists in America, but if one’s work is critical of Israel the normal rules about free inquiry don’t apply.  One need only look at the fate of scholars, both Jew and Gentile, who have written critically about Israel: the learned Jewish theologian Mark Ellis; the courageous investigative journalist Robert I. Freedman, the independent Jewish scholar Lenni Brenner, and especially the non-Jewish scholars John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, authors of the penetrating study The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.”

to read the complete article, see http://commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/nelson-mandela-freedom-fighter/

The US government’s absolute refusal to criticize Israeli policies toward the Palestinians no matter how atrocious, coupled with promiscuous use of horrendous deadly force against Islamic peoples, and the atmosphere of intimidation that suppresses honest debate at home, is the main source of Anti-American hatred in the Muslim world that has made us the primary target of the modern Jihad.  All Americans need to understand the process by which US policy toward Israel is shaped because there will never be peace in the Middle East until the Palestinians receive a just settlement from the Israeli government.  Until then there will be constant wars and rumors of wars in the Middle East.

In order to gain a fuller understanding of this ongoing crisis, and why Kerry should stand up to the “Israel is always right crowd,” read my essay cited above and “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” by John Mearshimer and Stephan Walt, at The London Review of Books Online.  The authors of this study are political science professors at two of the world’s most prestigious universities – Harvard and the University of Chicago – and they know whereof they speak!

“Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?” they ask.   And their answers should outrage all patriotic Americans. “One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides. Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby.”

Based on this claim, we might reasonably ask whether those who actively seek to suppress honest debate on Israeli policies toward the beleaguered Palestinian people are a danger to US national security.  For it is self-evident that the best interests of the US is not their paramount concern.

 

Senator Ted Cruz

Cruz - shady character

Republican Charlatan!

Senator Barbara Boxer

Barbara+Boxer+Holds+News+Conf+Wall+St+Reform+ZuoDxn1iL5Zl

Shameless Democratic Apologist for Israel
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Playthell G. Benjamin

San Francisco

April 29, 2014

 

 

In Defense of Looking Divine

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , , on April 27, 2014 by playthell

DSC02555

Parishioners outside Harlem’s Abyssinia Baptist Church

Whatever Happened to Sunday go to Meeting Clothes? “I love dressing up, but I don’t want MY church to emphasize fashion. Everyone should feel welcome -sweat pants and all – that is if it is a place of spiritual worship. My fashion choices should not make one feel insulted IN CHURCH. Let’s encourage people to actually practice, live their religion -even the minister.”

I could not disagree with the above comment more.  Who said the church – in this case the world famous Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem – “emphasizes” fashion choices…certainly not I.  What I did was comment on how sharp the parishioners are and celebrate it as a good and welcome practice: decorating oneself to the height of fashion when entering the House of the Lord.

However anybody who knows anything about the history or current activities of this church knows that they are one of the most progressive churches in the nation. This is the church built by Adam Clayton Powell Sr., whose son went on to become the most progressive congressman of his time…and as Chairman of an important committee dealing with health, welfare and labor issues authored and got passed 60 bills that established the laws which are critical to the safety net benefits all Americans enjoy today!

He was also a leader in the civil rights movement and along with his beautiful, musically gifted wife Hazel Scott – and artist whose brilliance is unmatched today – set a standard for high fashion in Harlem that dazzled the world.

The Social Event of 1945 in Harlem

Adam C. Powell and Hazel Scott

The Wedding of Adam Clayton Powell and Hazel Scott
The Performing Artist and the Preacher/Politician
Adam Powell and Hazel Scott
 The Most Stylish Couple in New York!
 The Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Marries Nat and Maria Cole
Adam Powell marries Nat Cole 
Elegance and High Style was the Order of the Day
Two Harlem Foxes: New York’s Finest
Adam's wife Hazel and Lena Horne
Hazel Scott Hangin Out with her Girl Lena Horne
 The Elegance of that Era
Abiodun's Tribute 115
Is personified in the high style of Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel
 And the Parishioners of Abyssinia Church
A Fine Straw Bonnet
There are no better dressed congregations in New York City!
Elegance is also Alive and Well on Sugar Hill
On Sugar Hill
The Personification of Old School Cool
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The present Pastor, Reverend Doctor Calvin Butts, a minister with a PhD, is one of the most progressive preachers in America whose good works are far too numerous to list here.  Suffice it to say that Abyssinia Baptist Church embodies everything that is great and good about the black American church which Dr. Dubois, an atheist like me – called “one of the most amazing institutions ever created by human beings.”

Now as to the matter of proper attire for church services: I think the comment  “Everyone should feel welcome -sweat pants and all, that is if it is a place of spiritual worship” thoroughly misses the point.  In every society, no matter how simple or complex its development, there are ceremonies and rituals that require the participants to groom and decorate themselves for the occasion.

The elaborateness of the costume is symbolic of the gravitas of the ceremony.  Hence if one believes that God is the creator of the world, and that any good fortune that befalls us is by his grace alone, then not to adorn oneself in finery when you enter his house strikes me as a sacrilege!!!!

Whatever happened to “Sunday go to meeting clothes?”  I was walking around just this last Sunday and saw some young people coming out of a non-black church and I was appalled!  They looked like they were coming from a hip hop show.  If I were the pastor of a church I would have fashion police stationed at the door for the express purpose of turning such people away!!!!

You cannot convince me that you understand the gravitas of the occasion if you are not willing to groom and decorate yourself in your best garments before entering this holy space!!!!  Enough of this disdain for elegance that is plaguing our society…the difference in the attire of black performers like Nat King Cole, Billy Ekstine, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Jackie Wilson when compared to Snoop Dog and Little Wayne is a measure of the degree of decadence that is infecting black American culture!

Standing in the Need of Prayer!

lil-wayne-photo

Evidenc of the Hip Hop Fashion Disaster
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!  IN MY VIEW: IF YOU CAN’T DRESS UP TO VISIT THE HOUSE OF THE LORD THEN YOUR SPIRITUALTY IS ABOUT AS DEEP AS A DRY CREEK BED DURING A DROUGHT!!!!!!

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Way Out West, with Harlem on my Mind
April 25, 2014

Melting The Sun

Posted in Guest Commentators, Music Reviews with tags , , on April 20, 2014 by playthell

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 Chris Pendergraft of space rock band Echocosmic

Cosmic Salvation Songs

Down around the back of a former iron foundry in east Oakland’s post-industrial wasteland, if you can find the door and know the secret knock, it is possible of a Friday evening to catch the lyric melancholy and faster-than-light travel of the band EchoCosmic at play. Synching digital beats and mixing board effects with live instruments, these musicians bring well-honed skills and a constant quest for meaning to their music.

In 1997 a quest for meaning through music produced Root Beer, the early band in which brothers-in-music Chris Pendergraft and Mike Blodgett began to work together. Through the writing and performance of the band’s signature protest rock songs, Mike Blodgett’s guitar style developed lyric eloquence, with bright sprays of descending sounds arcing like brief light pulses in the cold and indifferent openness of deep space.

Inherent in the name Echocosmic is the powerful sense of great distance and vast lapses of time.  Cosmic is defined as: the whole universe;immeasurably extended in space or time; vast; harmonious.   All of these elements have a place in the band’s compositions.  The word echo comes to us from the mythological Greek nymph who pined away for the beautiful, indifferent Narcissus until only her voice remained. With this etymology, it is no wonder that the echo carries an implicit sense of melancholy.

But an echo also relates to sound in a manner of interest to music-makers; it is uniquely produced by reflecting sound waves from a surface, where the returning sound may be only a fragment of the original.  And herein lies the heart of the matter, for in the songs of Echocosmic we hear the report of the interstellar traveler, returning across inhuman distance and still more inhuman time.

 These songs are evocative of struggle, mourning, and memory, chronicling the birth of black holes or the explosive nirvana of a star going nova.  ”Red Shift” with its desending chords and cascading shower of deep notes, feels like we are listening to the recorded end of some ancient civilization or an entire planet, perhaps as viewed by an anguished alien race of future spacefarers.

A red shift refers to a change in light wavelengths, moving toward a slower, cooler portion of the spectrum. The sun is a frequent, even baseline reference in space rock, and Echocosmic heeds this tradition.  Another of their songs is meant to communicate the point of view of bacteria colonizing a sun: in the heat of the solar flares, the space bacteria awaken, grow and make a new home.

In 1968, Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun came out on the album Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd, pioneering progressive rock’s shift toward what would be termed “space rock;” their solar fires and deep cold space attracted the attention of people ranging from NBA Hall of Fame star Dennis Rodman to Exorcist movie star Linda Blair.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun is a ten minute extravaganza of “out there” sound which builds to a violent end that actually comes, impossibly, as a climax. This distinctly disciplined approach to a pulsing momentum with abstract sound became a genre that encompasses much of Echocosmic today.

 Drummer Eric the Mover
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 Keeps the rhythm out there!

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 Mike Blodgett
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Lead Guitar, a Sonic Space Cadet
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 Merging technology and Music
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Powering their Space Odyssey

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Their Rehersal  Space is Also a Recording Studio

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 Which Blodgett built to Free the Band from the tyranny of record companies
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East Bay Artist Susannah Israel and Ray Heywood

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Are Mesmerized by the Music

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 Text by: Susannah Israel
Photos by: Playthell Benjamin
April 20th 2014
Oakland, California

What Militant Islam Looks Like in Africa

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on April 13, 2014 by playthell

 Boko Harem - Islamic Terrorists

Nihilistic Boko Haram Fanatics in Nigeria

 

A Clear and Present Danger to Nigeria’s Quest for Modernity

The latest atrocity committed by fanatical Islamists is the slaughter of over a hundred people in the predominantly Muslim northern region of Nigeria. Gun-wielding Islamic zealots for a Jihadist group calling itself Boko Haram – which means “against western education” – is blamed for the slaughter. In order to understand the thinking behind such bloodthirsty acts one need only study the views of Abubaker Shekau, the supreme leader of Boko Haram.

A shadowy figure that never appears in public and makes his views known through internet video tapes, like Osama bin Laden, Shekau has a proactive attitude toward religiously inspired murder.  In this he is a cookie cutter copy of all jihadist leaders. In a report filed by Addullah Tasiu of the BBC’s Hausa Service, we are told by Professor Abubakar Mu’azu from the University of Maiduguri that Shekau is “is the leader of the more militant wing of the group as testified by his aping of Osama Bin Laden in his video appearances.”

These videos are posted online surreptitiously by a secret cell in Boko Haram known as the “Public Enlightenment Department.” In one of these videos, released in the aftermath of a killing spree where Boko Haram butchers slaughtered 180 innocent people in Kano – the largest city in the predominately Muslim northern region – Abubaker Shenkau looks into the camera and announces to the world: “I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill – the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams.”

To those looking on, this writer included, the question that begs an answer is: “What manner of man is this that could say such a thing?   Shekau does not appear in public due to the fact that the founder of Boko Haram, and his immediate predecessor, Muhammad Yusef, was killed by security forces and Shekau himself barely escaped execution by them.

Now the most wanted man in Nigeria, he would surely be shot on sight if discovered by Nigerian security forces or captured and subjected to a worse fate as an example to others who would follow in his footsteps, Shekua remains in hiding and we are left with descriptions of him by people who knew him before he became notorious.

The Nigerian journalist Ahmed Salkida is such a person.  We are told in the BBC report that Salkida’s access to Skekau and other Boko Haram militants once attracted the attention of Nigeria’s security forces, which became suspicious of his relationship with them, and he barely escaped execution on the spot by virtue of the intervention of a superior officer.  Salkida describes the Boko Haram leader as “a fearless loner, a complex, paradoxical man – part intellectual, part gangster” who is between 36 and 40 years old.  In the picture below he reminds me of former New York Knicks star Earl “The Pearl” Monroe.

Abubeker Shekau
abubakar boko haram
Nigeria’s Most Wanted

A closer look at the life of Skekua and his fanatical co-conspirators in Boko Haram reveals similar patterns of development with other militant Islamic Jihadist movements such as the murderous Taliban in Afghanistan and the multi-national Al Qaeda, the authors of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City. The “Taliban,” which translates in English as “Seminarians” are doctrinaire Islamic fundamentalists committed to the establishment of Sharia Law.

Hence this is a religious movement born in the Islamic seminaries in Afghanistan. Abubaker Shekau was recruited and tutored by Mamman Nur, a mutual friend of his and of Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusef, who were also seminary students.  Mamman is charged with organizing the notorious 2011 bombing of United Nation’s offices in Nigeria. Addressed by the clerical title “Imam” by his followers, Shekau is viewed by authorities as “the quietest and perhaps the most radical of them,” reports the BBC’s Tsiu.

According to Ahmed Sakilda, the journalist who knows him best: “He is one of those who believes that you can sacrifice anything for your belief,” Mr Salkida says.  Mr Shekau is fluent in his native Kanuri, Hausa and Arabic languages – he does not speak English. I used to joke with him that he should teach me Arabic and I would teach him English.”

Like the Talaban,Boko Haram is opposed to all western influence and is willing to resort to intimidation and murder to keep women in a state of complete subjugation to men, forcing them to wear veils, denying them education and employment as professionals, and even needing male permission to leave the house.  Both movements justify such practices as following the dictates of the Koran.

This is what happens when these ancient religious texts are taken literally – for the Christian Bible also contains its share of barbaric absurdities if taken literally. Boko Haram has an organizational structure based on independent cells with a decentralized command structure that makes them impossible to effectively infiltrate.  Their operational principles appear to be “invisible organization” and “Phantom Leadership.”

This explains how they are able to conduct lightning strikes all across Northern Nigeria and disappear as if into thin air.  And the increasing ruthlessness of the Nigerian security forces only serves to increase support for the movement among devout Muslims.

A Boko Haram Cell

 Boko Horem II

 African Soldiers of Allah

Many of these people dwell in a universe dominated by radical Islamic theology that envisions a world that harkens back to the 11th century, a time when, as the Afro-American Astrophysicist Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson points out, a leading Islamic philosopher decided that mathematics was “the work of the Devil’ and set in motion the anti-intellectual forces that ended Islamic civilization’s 300 years of preeminence in science.

Alas the rejection of “western education” is the 21st century counterpart of this reactionary self-destructive mindset – which arrested development of Islamic civilization and led to the ascension a modern western civilization that dominated the world and the subjugated the Islamic world to the humiliation of European colonialism – the consequences of which they are still struggling to overcome.

Hence when we consider that the main targets of Boko Haram are schools, libraries, cell phone services,  newspapers, etc – the tools of modernization – the Nigerian government has no choice but to crush Boko Haram if it intends to continue its march towards modernity…which is a precondition for effectively competing in a 21st century world.

A Boko Haram’s Mosque
_57829325_girlsmaidugurimosque_afpboko haram mosque
 They would replace Modern schools with this

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Playthell G. Benjamin
San Francisco, California
April 13, 2014

Praise Songs for a Master Musician

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , , , , on April 8, 2014 by playthell
MODELE ARMSTRONG
Louis Armstrong: His horn and voice changed the world of music

A Fitting Tribute to a Great Artist on the Centenary of his Birthday

On the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Armstrong a celebration in his honor was held at Columbia University, one of America’s most distinguished institutions of higher learning. Titled The Artistry of Pops: Louis Armstrong on his 100th Birthday,” three of the nation’s most outstanding intellectuals and artists – Robert O’Meely, Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis – conducted an ancestor veneration ritual in memory of Louis Armstrong, a great American original.

Robert O’Meely is a Professor of English at Columbia, Director of the Institute for Jazz Studies and a serious Jazz scholar who wrote an important book on Billy Holliday; Stanley Crouch is the nation’s premiere Jazz critic and biographer of Charlie Parker; and Wynton Marsalis is Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center – the most important Jazz performance and education venue in the world – and leader of the internationally renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, an aggregation of great musicians who can play every genre of jazz without accent.

It is a certainty that almost anyone who takes the time to view this video will be greatly enlightened by the experience.  My certainty lies in the fact that I was enlightened by it and I have been writing about Jazz for over 20 years and have published essays about the music in some of the most prestigious journals in the English language.  The video begins with an opening address by Dr. O’Meely, rich in eloquence and erudition, it paints a complex portrait of Louis Armstrong that demolished the stereotypical view of him as a simple minded entertainer and borderline clown.

What emerges from Professor O’Meely’s succinct but learned lecture is a compelling portrait of a great artist who changed western music and won devotees among musicians and music lovers all over the world.  We learn that the ability to play and instrument and also sing well enough to have a lasting influence on both arts is a very rare feat; the province of genius.  Yet, he tells us, this is precisely what Louis Armstrong did.

       Pop’s Armstrong Singing
                         Louis Armstrong singing
Recording with the magnificent Ella Fitzgerald

Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitgerald

                    One of Pop’s many artistic “children”

In his professorial fashion Dr. O’Meely cited a scholarly text to provide evidence of the influence of Louis Armstrong on the major singers who dominated American jazz and pop music for most of the twentieth century and set the standards many singers still emulate. The Book, “Pops Children,” lets us hear it from the horses’ mouths through the author’s interviews.  Among those who pay homage to Pops as an artistic inspiration and guide are Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Lady Day, et al.

O’Meely’s lecture was the ideal introduction to Louis Armstrong, because he enumerates the many facets of Armstrong’s interests and talents and defines the elements that characterize his style and innovations in western music. Although he teases us with glimpses of Armstrong’s multi-faceted personality and varied interests, he reminds us they are laboring under the tyranny of the clock and thus must confine their discourse to the matter of music.

Despite the fact that he is a Professor of English Dr. O’Meely is a fine music critic.  Like Crouch and Marsalis he is a protégée of the novelist, essayist, musician Ralph Ellison, and Albert Murray, the recently departed Harlem sage and blues philosopher whose masterpiece, “Stomping the Blues,” is a canonical text on Afro-American music…especially Jazz. Thus O’Meely’s analysis is well informed by a broad knowledge of the history and nature of artistic creation and innovation, and his discussion of Louis Armstrong is conducted within the comparative context of all great art.

As a literary man beguiled by the blues in its many splendored guises, Dr. O’Meeley conjures up the memory of Professor Sterling Brown, a Harvard educated pioneer blues poet and longtime Professor of English at Howard University in Washington, who had jazz musicians play for his class live and who is called out by name as the hippest intellectual in the nation’s capitol in Ledbelly’s famous song “Washington is a Bourgeois Town.”  

It was Professor O’Meely who was called upon to make the keynote speech at the dedication of the monumental statute “Invisible Man,” created by Elizabeth Catlett, outside of Ellison’s residence on Riverside Drive, not far from Columbia’s campus. Unlike Sterling Brown, O’ Meely does not need jazz musicians to play for his class because just a few blocks down Broadway from campus is Jazz at Lincoln Center, where the greatest Jazz musicians in the world perform nearly every night.  O’Meely is immersed in the Jazz milieu being centrally located in the Jazz capitol of the world he has seen it all, which makes him an ideal critic fully equipped to evaluate the place of Louis Armstrong in American music.

I got a taste of the depth of his erudition when we debated an essay on music and literature written by Albert Murray in a seminar at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Debating the Learned Professor O’Meely at the Sorbonne
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        A Joint Meeting of the US and European Associations of American Studies  

At the conclusion of his learned commentary on the character and contributions of Pops Armstrong, Professor O’Meely turned the floor over to Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis after reading their impressive bonafides to the audience, calling them “two of the smartest people talking about Jazz.” Crouch was introduced first to tumultuous applause, but when Wynton walked on stage, trumpet in hand, the crowd went wild.

In an extended discussion Crouch compared the heroism of people who invent major movements in art or intellectual ideas to those in classical Greek mythology, and Wynton dazzled with his in-depth knowledge of the art of trumpet playing and the history of its development in the USA. As always, his lecture became a “show and tell” when he would demonstrate his point on the trumpet.

This video is a wonderful portrait of Pops which require no further comment, since we have the film. However it is impossible to overstate the importance of the work that O’Meely, Crouch and Marsalis are doing by institutionalizing Jazz in elite, well funded, American cultural and academic institutions such as Lincoln Center and Columbia University.

It is both fitting and proper that this effort should be led by Afro-American artists and intellectuals.  Jazz is, after all, Black America’s gift to the nation and America’s gift to world culture.  Look, listen and learn about one of the greatest artists and most interesting American men of the 20th century, the trumpet virtuoso that invented both the extended Jazz solo and a distinctly American approach to singing… the Jazz song.

Pops At Carnegie Hall with Kate Middleton 1947
Louis_Armstrong_and_Velma_Middleton,_Carnegie_Hall,_New_York,_N.Y.,_ca._Feb._1947_
                      A Sartorial Trend Setter Always sharp as a Tack
The Axe with Which Louis Conquored the World!
Louis Arnstrongs trumpet presented to him by King George V of England in 1933
This Trumpet was a gift from King George V in 1933
Double click on link to see the video Tribute
http://youtu.be/G0X24dJHYq4 

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 4, 2014

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